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All The Gold

Chapter 1 (Sample)

“And with that, the trap is disarmed and the danger passed.”
- The last words of Hamilton C. Fields

There is nothing like gold. The luster, a gentle sheen of reflective bliss. Its weight, solid and balanced, the heft proportional to its value. The draw, nothing else calls the way gold does. Not jewels or antiquities or objects of power. They all pale compared to the natural elegance of a golden coin. Countless thieves fell ill to the fever brought on by gold. More than any plague ravaging the landscape, but never Grint. He learned well to avoid that sickness.

Keep your eye on what you’re there to steal. Blue Fingered Hobbe, the God of Thieves, cautioned his many wards of the danger the golden fever carried.

Grint ran his finger along the curved arm of a golden candelabra and flicked it at its lowest point. The answering thud made him smile. A solid piece, neither gilded nor hollow, and when melted down would keep him floating in drink for a few turnings of the moon. Tempting, perhaps a bit too tempting considering the piece fit in his bag. Tonight’s foray into larceny had a specific goal in mind, but why not something extra?

A deep, pleasing silence filled the ancient manor. The palpable, deafening absence of sound forced him to be at his best or invite disaster. One errant mistake, false step or indulgence of fancy would bring about a flood of trouble. Upon slippered feet wrapped in cloth, the ends tied off in strips of leather, Grint moved with impunity as the last hours of night dwindled away. The occupying Lord slept, unaware of the intruder stalking his halls.

Grint watched the manor for a week leading up to tonight. The original house, a squat, square structure of yellowed sandstone, remained half-visible beneath additions of lacquered wood frames, clay walls, and scalloped tile across the roof. The perfect depiction for the city of Salaz. A place caught between progression and protecting heritage. The Lord in residence, Borismere caused quite an upheaval all on his own, courting the Queen and elevating his status beyond what Grint’s benefactor found to be suitable.

Through careful study, Grint watched, moving closer every day. First, from the window of a fine tavern where he could see the comings and goings. Then at night, from the branches of a tree he shared with three old mungles chattering incoherent grunts to each other over a single piece of fruit. Each time, Grint familiarized himself with the guards’ faces, routines, and patrols. The kry-damned fools, emboldened by a lack of anything meaningful to do, passed most nights throwing dice in the small confines of the guardhouse. Grint laid upon their roof the last night, listening to war stories - most outright lies - and complaints about the despotic rule of the wizard in residence.

Unlike most jobs, Grint had the luxury of time. The man who hired him, Lord Sem Orsava, was not the typical benefactor doling out opportunities while contriving ways to cheat you. Instead, as a minor Salazian noble, Orsava wanted to set certain balances right and see family heirlooms returned to his care. Such as his lost painting of a boat in a storm. The painting, which Orsava described as older than the Sangantide Treaty, was last seen with his estranged brother. Through the lucrative market of trading favors, Orsava learned the Queen’s collectors seized it. Brother Orsava’s reputation as a poor gambler was legendary, piling up a substantial amount of debt.

A pity I never met him, Grint thought. Rich fools at the table often put more coin in the pocket than theft. It just wasn’t as fun. Grint never asked the fate of the brother, but with a debtor’s mark, he was likely imprisoned on Allast Island. The jail sat on the center island in Salaz’s harbor, just a deadly swim through siren eel infested waters.

Proper handling of debts meant the painting should have been auctioned toward the brother’s account. The Queen chose instead to gift it to Lord Borismere. Orsava described the rival Lord as the worst kind of Salazian - one who wasn’t from there. Grint held to the suspicion that if the painting ended up with anyone else, he would have left it there. Seeing it with Borismere was not an option Orsava would entertain. Given Borismere’s standing and his connection to the Queen, it was of paramount importance that Grint make no mistakes, or leave even the barest of footprints behind. A fate worse than Allast Island waited for anyone who crossed the vindictive monarch of Salaz.

“Not to worry,” Grint told his benefactor just that morning. The details of entering the manor and leaving with the painting were all worked out.

Be careful you don’t become too emboldened yourself! Hobbe laughed. He wanted to scream at Hobbe, but it would do no good. The annoying bits of knowledge doled out by the smirking god in Grint’s mind were just that - voices in his head. Spectral communication wasn’t among Hobbe’s many talents. Debating with the voice as he often did was just arguing with himself. And foolish. When his conscience chimed in, he found it best to listen.

Fine, Grint gave in, putting the candelabra back on the hall table, adjusting the angle to match the position he’d found it.

Trouble enough existed on any job without tempting the hand of Lady Lorelai, Goddess of Luck. If tonight, Borismere remained late in his study, or the wizard woke from a harsh dream - all the spirit glue ever mixed wouldn’t put the broken pieces of the plan back together. Grint knew how to adapt to changing landscapes with the tools on hand, and with those tools he was the best there was. It wasn’t hubris - maybe - but he never doubted the fact that there wasn’t a thing in the world he couldn’t steal.

Fine rugs ran the length of the manor hallway, squishing beneath his feet. A pair of hard-soled boots sat in his bag, just in case he needed them for a getaway. Most of the roads in Salaz were cobblestone or cracked brick in need of repair. Either would be murder on slippered feet. Skirting the wall, he stepped light, trying not to think about escaping. Lord Borismere lived here when he was not at the palace, but also housed his staff within the manor. Four maids, a secretary, and the wizard lived in rooms scattered around the house. None should have any need to be awake at this hour, but it helped to keep him sharp if he imagined they were right beside him.

Pausing beside the study door, he sucked in a deep breath, listening for sounds on the other side. No light spilled beneath and nothing moved, so he turned the knob. It was an old copper thing that screamed in protest at such an untimely hour. Grint’s jaw ached with tension, but he kept at it, squeezing his eyes until a loud click echoed the release of the latch. Shimmying through the opening, he closed the door within a hair’s width. Not enough to notice unless someone tried to come in and not shut far enough that he’d have to mess with the knob on the way out.

Effulg’s blue moonlight spilled through the window behind Borismere’s desk. The study was a disappointment for Grint. An unassuming room, sparse in its decor. Just a plain oak desk centered beneath the window and an old reading chair in the far corner. Three golden busts of Borismere’s ancestry sat on the shelves, interspersed between books that appeared purchased for their aesthetic value and not the words they held. Looking at the first bust’s gaunt features pinched in expressions of dismay reminded Grint of Willen bonecasters who beheaded intruders as a warning. Grint flicked the nose and heard a hollow sound. Tin with a gilding of gold.

All that remained in the study were two paintings hanging on either side of the window. To the left, an old chapel of Ashgra and its believers during a meteor shower. Somber tidings to look upon every day. Not that the painting on the right offered any better. Orsava’s family heirloom depicted an old boat on rough waters. Torrential rains drenched two fishermen fighting to stay afloat. Fishermen was Grint’s initial thought, but looking closer at the rough scratch the artist used on their faces, the deep-set eyes and gaunt, frail arms. They look like escaping prisoners.

Growing up on the streets of Dirty Gull, he knew the type well. Salt fishers, condemned prisoners used as bait, walked under guard when their boats were in port. Or maybe it was just his occupational bias. When you’re a thief, everyone looks like a criminal.
Orsava mused at substantial length on the painting, about how the waters drew you in as they moved. Grint didn’t see it. Just a boat lost at sea.

Not a musing, Hobbe whispered in warning.

“You’re right,” Grint said, his fingers hovering over the intricate detailing of the frame. Orsava made it clear this painting moved. An enchantment of the oils and brush. Animated paintings were a fad that spread through aristocracies, ebbing and following over the last century. Grint never cared for them. The unnatural motion made him feel green when he looked too long. Things meant to be still should stay that way.

The revelation that this one sat still inspired him to proceed with caution. Grint pulled an agot stone from his bag and scraped the edge onto his blade. The dust it left behind had the uncanny ability of revealing hidden enchantments. It saved Grint’s backside more than once, warning him about traps that otherwise would kill or ensnare.

Grint blew the dust into the picture. If nothing happened, there were no enchantments. Otherwise, the color of the dust would reveal the magic used. Borismere may have enchanted the painting to stop moving. Or his wizard… Grint watched the result as his mouth hung open. In all the many years of thievery, this was one he’d not seen before. Wherever the dust landed, the painting vanished, revealing a rough texture beneath and the scribblings of what appeared to be a complex map. The image lasted two breaths before the painting reappeared.

Wanting a better look, Grint pulled the thing off the wall and set it face down atop the clean surface of the desk. A handful of brackets held the canvas to the frame, each pried loose with the tip of his dagger. Setting the frame aside, he flipped the painting face-up and smoothed it out. His mind expected the rigid contour of scraped paint, but that was a lie. This wasn’t a painting at all, just a map pretending to be. Grint produced a long leather tube, removing the spool of paper within. A thin layer of wax protected the mimicrum - magic cloth that took the image of what it touched - wax being the exception. Using it took skill. Even the slightest brush of a finger could trigger transformation, rendering it useless.

With delicate precision, he laid the painting onto the mimicrum. In a few ticks it would create a perfect copy of what lie beneath. Mimicrum cared nothing for enchantments, taking its shape from the original. Once done, Grint could put the original back in the frame, giving himself ample time to study the map. Borismere would never know someone else had a copy of his secret map. Grint paced while he waited for the mimicrum, imagining what the map might lead to. Something important. Who hid a map to their larder or grandmother’s old day dresses?

While his mind dreamed of bejeweled crowns and magic swords, the mimicrum sizzled, the audible cue that its magic was at work. At the very least, Grint hoped it might lead to the real painting. A tad disappointing if that was all, but it would mean a job completed and a pouch of coin paid. Take what is…

“Not now,” he told the voice, wanting to indulge in a few more flights of fancy. “The lost sword of Zorn,” he whispered. “Or the Flute of Gray Renown. A hundred coins from the haul of ancient pirates. An elixir to raise the dead.” Grint knew far too many people to bring back with such a thing.

When enough time passed, he trotted back to the desk, unable to contain the excitement. His foot tapped as he peeled back the painting. The mimicrum had done its job. Perhaps too thoroughly, he thought. The map, in all of its glory, was a complex thing of lines, notes, warnings and directions - most overlapping one another in confusing layers.

“What in the charffing name of Maguire am I supposed to do with this?”

Grint flattened the painting inside its frame, using the butt of his knife to tap in the brackets. All the while studying the new map, trying to make sense of what it led to. Turning away to hang the painting, it struck like a bolt from the heavens. The map showed the floor plan of a manor. This manor in particular. And the line was a path leading to a series of tunnels. At the end? A sizable room marked only with a golden circle.

Now came the time for truth. Did he follow the map to its end or retreat and come back another night? Dawn was fast approaching and would make skulking nigh impossible. Leaving led to the possibility that Grint’s interdiction would be discovered, rendering the map useless.
“What’s life without a minor risk,” he asked one of the golden busts, lightly slapping its cheek.

The hunt began in the study, continuing past a sitting room and kitchen before ending in a hall with no outlet. A staircase existed on the map, but no doorway through. A bridge to cross when he got to it. Light spilled through the kitchen threshold. Followed by the whisper of voices. A man and woman. Grint tucked himself beside the sitting-room door and waited. One guard and a maid? Their conversation centered on her making him a sandwich and her attempting to shoo him off. Stealing food and fraternizing was an excellent way to get sacked, but that wasn’t leverage enough to convince them to ignore Grint if they happened upon him.

A black and brown shepherd dog padded through the door and sniffed the air. Grint froze. When did they get a bloody dog? He never once saw it during his reconnaissance.

“What is it, Cur?” The guard said as his bulky frame blocked the light. The dog whimpered and looked up, but found no affection from the man. With a disgruntled sound, he walked back into the kitchen.

“Who was it?” The maid whispered.

“No one, Cur is just a jumpy thing.”

“She’s an obedient girl,” she laughed. “Better close the door just in case. Lord Borismere’s all-powerful wizard has been on a rampage.”

Grint let his breath out as the kitchen door closed, bringing blessed darkness back to the hall. The dog sat, licking her chops while the eyes reflected what little ambient light existed. As soon as Grint shifted, she turned his way. A low growl sounded as her hackles raised. Head low, Cur stepped slowly toward him.

“Easy there, Cur,” Grint whispered, reaching into his bag.

The dog stopped a few feet away, baring its teeth. One wrong move and Grint could picture his insides splattered across the expensive rug. Careful not to make sudden moves, he held out his hand, showing the dog a meaty bone. It was something his own dog, Newman, liked to chew on. The effect was immediate. Cur stopped growling, settling onto her haunches and pawing the air. Grint tossed the bone, and she caught it, retreating to the kitchen door with her prize.

Grint tip-toed past. The dog watched, then returned to her important work. Ahead was where the hallway ended. An odd thing to build a hall without windows or doorways. Not even a closet. Grint shook a glow orb, the liquid lit, brightening so he could look at the map. If the guard came out, he’d have to stow it in the bag or fight his way out.

The map showed a series of symbols in three columns. What language is this? If it was an ancient tongue, this was a dead end in more ways than one. Grint couldn’t recognize the glyphs, or even approximate them with something he’d seen before. Running his hands along the wall, he looked for panels or gaps and even slammed a shoulder into each of the walls to see if they moved. Nothing. As a last ditch effort, Grint pulled out the agot stone and blew dust at the wall. Waving it around, he hoped to show hidden enchantments. Again there was nothing.

Grint fumbled with the glow orb as the guard reappeared. He cradled the thing against his belly and fell on it before the guard spotted the light. Stuffing a sandwich in his mouth, the guard looked down at the dog and asked, “You making that noise, Cur?”

Grint watched from the dark-end of the hall, crouched low with the orb held tight. Light threatened to escape from the gaps between his clothing, so he tightened his grip, hoping the sudden shift of shadows didn’t draw attention. Unable to see now, Grint could only listen as the guard cursed.

“Stop trying to trip me,” he snapped at the dog. “Spilling my food.” Grint heard the bone drop as the dog lapped at the fallen bits of sandwich.

“Careful,” the maid whispered, her voice giddy. “If they find a mess, it’s my hide.”

“Cur will clean it up,” he answered. Grint risked a peek, seeing the guard pushing the bone with his foot. “Where did you find this?”

“Make sure she does,” the maid replied as she planted a smooch on the guard’s cheek. The door closed, stealing away the light.

“It’s dark in here,” the man whined. Grint heard the maid’s laugh fading away. There were more inaudible grumbles to which Cur growled back. “Ungrateful,” he muttered, walking toward the front door. Left alone, the dog picked up the bone and trotted over to Grint, laying it by his feet to keep chewing.

“I wish all guards were as easy to bribe as you,” Grint said as he scratched her ears. Alone, he released the orb, hoping to find the answer.

“You know what these glyphs are, girl?” He asked, unrolling the map. If he lingered much longer, daylight would force him to flee. The dog drew Grint’s attention to the floor beneath the carpet. She pawed at the edge, trying to lift it. Looking closer, Grint saw the third rune from the map under the frayed strands. Pulling the carpet away, he found an unbroken line of runes scratched in the floorboards. Smiling, he fed the dog a treat and scratched her face. A gesture returned with a wet tongue across his cheek.

Lining the map on the floor, he matched four of the runes. Grint touched them in order, pressing down on the wood until each glowed. Fulfilling the list, a latch in the wall clicked. The panel shimmered, turning from solid wood to clear liquid. It hummed when he touched the surface, but allowed his hand to pass through with no effort. The dog lifted its head, licking its lips, and whining at the portal.

“Dangerous?” He asked. She cocked her head. “Only one way to find out.” Grint leapt through and turned to call for the dog, but the wall turned solid as soon as his feet touched down.

Holding out the glow orb, its magical light illuminated a long stone stairwell leading deep below the manor. Grint took account of what tricks he had left in his bag. Bits of magic for concealment, poisons, blades, a rusty compass, and three lock picks. The jumble of things made him wish he’d spent an extra hour this morning organizing the mess. With the old bag, it knew what he needed and just made it available. This bag needed training. Neither contained magic, other than the warding on the clasp, but even a good inanimate object required a bit of cajoling here and there.

“Could be there’s a magic bag at the end of this hunt,” he smiled. He’d always wanted one of those. They were charffing expensive to get the right way and rarer to find the less legitimate route. He traced his hand across the stairwell on the map, wondering for the first time whether Borismere posted guards in here.

Thank you for thinking of that now.

According to the map, after the stairs he’d find three rooms and another staircase. Notes scrawled atop the rooms revealed a myriad of directions for someone who could read them. Grint learned a few written words in Basic. Enough to get him by. Traps, chest, treasure, death, wanted. The rest of it was all a bunch of jumbled letters in a secret alphabet. Except, this time, some of it was a secret alphabet. Lord Borismere used cyphers in the notes. Boxes and circles around numbers and letters. Traps and puzzles annoyed Grint, even if his greatest skill was working out how to circumvent and escape their deadly clutches.

That’s what you think your greatest skill is? Hobbe asked.

The stairs led to an ancient set of halls with arched twenty-foot ceilings. Ancient stonework with no seams were smooth to the touch, as if someone carved them from a single block. The craftsmanship was exquisite, forming intricate patterns and mosaics from a culture markedly different from most he’d seen. As the glow orb faded, he stuffed it in his bag to recharge. Pulling a torch from a bracket, the black iron ring clanked against the stone, dropping a shower of dust. Grint felt around the base of the bracket. They were recent additions, pounded into the wall and cracking centuries old pictograms. Lord Borismere held little sentimentality for Salaz’s past, it seemed. Grint passed his hand through the silent torch fire. It didn’t burn.

“Evertorches,” he whispered. An expensive enchantment to make a torch that never died and didn’t burn. A single one would fetch double what Orsava was paying him to steal the painting. Tempting to be sure, but they would miss such an expensive item. Or not. Grint gawked at a hallway lined with at least twenty of the torches.

“Find the room first, steal the torches later.”

Reaching the first puzzle, Grint burst out in laughter. The sound echoed through the dusty chamber. For all the cryptic words scrawled on the map, he’d expected a harrowing journey. What he found instead were ropes tied along the path one needed to take. Borismere held this secret so long he’d lulled himself into thinking he didn’t need to hide it. Smart if you were the only one coming down and you didn’t want to take an accidental step. But secrets never kept. Someone always found them. It made Grint’s mouth water, anticipating what he might find. Something that Borismere visited often enough to rope off a path.

Grint stood a foot to the side and tested the rope with his blade, plucking it like a lute string. When nothing rumbled or collapsed, he gripped it and traced the path through the dust. He tested each step before committing. In the first room, a hundred tiny statues depicting Dohlar, God of Plagues, stared inward. The many yawning mouths waited to release poison darts or gases to choke the life out of anyone foolish enough to disturb their slumber.

Allowed a moment to breathe, Grint shimmied through a cramped tunnel leading to the next chamber. Within the sunken room loomed two glimmering glass statues of Asper, Goddess of Oceans. Each bent along the curve of the ceiling, reaching out to clasp the other’s hands at the apex. Golden light danced through the liquid churning inside the glass. Would she drown Grint if he stepped wrong? Three materials covered the floor. Sturdy stone slabs, solid and sure. Cobbled brick, uneven, yet unmoving. Loose gravel, giving way underfoot. The most like water. The rope led through the gravel and back again to center as the chamber fed into the last room.

Here, Grint stared at an angry red statue of Ashgra standing with a bloody sword raised. Underfoot of the statue was a crude depiction of Krypholos. Salaz accepted Asper and Dohlar as deities. Krypholos did not enjoy the same courtesy. The bloody sword dripped fire, hissing where it struck the floor. Fire fit with the motif of Ashgra as a Sun God. The rope ended at a wall to Ashgra’s right with no clue why. Grint looked over the map, seeing nothing but a scribbled hand. One yellowed stone out of all the others looked worn.

Sweat beaded on his temple as he let his fingers dance before the stone. Pushing it seemed obvious. Stop the fire and open the door. Or would it dump an ocean of lava on him? Grint shook his head. “I’m overthinking it. Borismere won’t get tricky at the end.”

Closing his eyes, he pressed his hand against the stone, hearing it scrape as it moved. The door beneath Ashgra swung open, but the drips of fire did not stop. Grint counted the time between and jumped through without getting singed. Still, he patted himself down and checked to make sure. Satisfied, Grint passed into the second stairway. At the bottom, he discovered a large cave-like chamber filled with statues of galloping horses ten-times too large for any person to ride. The map depicted this room with a crudely drawn horse and a doorway leading to the larger chamber where the golden circle waited. What he saw when he lowered the map were a dozen tunnels branching off in many directions. The map didn’t show this. It was something Borismere came up with.

Borismere won’t get tricky at the end? Hobbe laughed.

Grint crouched, picking up loose pebbles from the floor and scattering them. They bounced into each cave. The tunnels weren’t illusions. Each disappeared into a wall of darkness a dozen feet in. There was no breeze or hint of light offering clues to the correct path. Even the dust from the agot stone was useless. Each tunnel glowed red as the dust crossed the threshold. They’re all enchanted somehow. The spying glass, a small monocle supposed to show secrets when held to the eye, revealed nothing. Bloody useless, Grint thought as he tightened the bag over his shoulder. I knew Zephen cheated me with this thing.

He stepped into the first tunnel, groaning, “I’d better get started.”

The best plan left was walking into each. If the tunnel branched off or ended, he’d go back and try another. It would take time, but in the underworld he had plenty. Dawn could come and go as he’d have to remain here until dark settled on the city once more. Unless Borismere made a habit of coming down to gawk, the odds of being disturbed were slim.

One step into the tunnel and the air collapsed inward, trapping the breath in his lungs. Grint tried to jump backwards, but the tunnel’s entrance vanished and his shoulder struck a solid wall. The pressure increased the longer he stood still, and relieved a bit as he moved, so he kept forward, struggling to breathe without blacking out. The tunnel curved in a tight circle. How can that be? It should have intersected with another tunnel or come back around to where he started.

Maybe it has no beginning, Hobbe warned, voicing the fear Grint knew too well. Irrationality set in and he started running, the surrounding pressure pushing harder every moment. A rumble of rocks showered the uneven floor as the tunnel collapsed, cascading in his direction. Grint ran until it was right on top of him and jumped with his eyes closed. When the rumble stopped and his breath returned, he opened his eyes. Back in the entry room, he thought, looking at the twelve tunnels.

“Bloody bender puzzle,” he coughed, wiping the very real debris off his coat. A nasty bit of magic popularized in the pre-Zorn days when Bar Church was the center of cultural significance. Each path would present its own horror to tax the mind and body, getting worse each time he chose the wrong way. From what Grint knew of the magic, he’d have two more tries before it killed him. And there were eleven tunnels left. Grint paced back and forth, looking for clues. Something. Anything to give him the answer. Footprints? Markings? Stumbling like a blind beggar into another tunnel was foolhardy, but there wasn’t a way in all the known hells of Astapoor he’d give up the hunt.

Rummaging through his bag, Grint sought anything that might help. The collection wasn’t as impressive as the one he used to have, but he’d still pulled together more than a few tricks. Unfortunately, none offered any help in this situation. Make the right choice. Resign yourself to momentary failure. Find a mage in the city who knows ways of revealing bender puzzles. The voice was right. If anyone like that existed in Salaz, they could unwind the bender with a snap. The last time Grint encountered such a mage was years ago, planning the crypt-job in the Thousand Rivers. It would take months to find him again, and there was no certainty they still lived.

“I could always try one more passage. Lorelai willing, might get lucky,” Grint said, pointing his finger at one passage and then another.

No, leave.

“Yeah, I’m trying,” Grint shut out the voice, breathing in deep and exhaling. Bouncing on his heels, he repeated the breathing, trying to will himself forward. It all felt like the moment before you dove in a body of water you knew would be freezing.

A dog’s bark and muffled voice alerted him to their approach. Two sets of boots walked down the stairs to his right. Grint clambered on top of the closest stone horse, pressing himself low in its saddle. In his bag he had a vial of shade leaf, but it was too late to go rooting around for it.

Lord Borismere walked in with the dog. She sniffed around the room, growling. Bloody turncoat, Grint thought. Another figure stepped in after them. Dressed in blood-red robes, they hid their face beneath a silver mask with horns protruding from the edges. The house wizard.
“When she paws at the glyphs it wakes me,” Borismere yawned. “Can we not change that?”

“I can, or we could punish the mutt,” the wizard replied. Cur whimpered and darted into the tunnel Grint first tried.

“No,” Borismere shouted. “Foolish dog.”

He pulled out and flicked a medallion. The tunnels wavered, allowing the dog to return with a rat in her mouth. “Was that what the fuss was about? You’ll be spending your night’s in the yard with the rest of the louts.” The dog glanced at Grint with the rodent in its mouth - did it wink at him? Not so foolish. Smart enough to know Grint woke the house by touching the glyphs.

“I can do a sweep,” the wizard said.

“No, I’m tired.” Borismere clicked his tongue as he left the room and the dog ran to follow. The Lord never looked up to see the smiling face of Grint. And why was he so happy? The medallion revealed the tunnel he needed to enter.

Grint waited well beyond the fading sounds of their footsteps, wanting to be sure no one doubled back. Satisfied, he hopped off his petrified mount and stepped into the third tunnel from the right. The illusion wavered and fell apart. Before him stood a giant wall with two golden doors. Pounding the surface with his fist, he felt the giddy realization that these doors alone were worth more than what Hobbe claimed to have in his secret vaults. Handles made of carved golden ropes felt right in his hands.

Grint pulled on them and they swung open. Golden light poured over his face as his heart skipped a beat. The evertorch shook in his hand. An ocean of gold, jewels, and treasure filled the room. And more. So much more.

“Hobbe, I’ve done it. I’ve become richer than you,” he said, falling to his knees.

Grint picked up two heaping handfuls of gold, letting the coins, knuckles, squares, triangles fall through his fingers. A bejeweled crown fit snug on his head. To the side, leaning against a rack of golden spears, sat Orsava’s painting. True to his word, the waves rolled as the men in the boat fought to stay alive. Grint fell onto his back, waving his arms and legs in a childish game of snow angels.

And just like that, the thief succumbed to the one thing he swore he never would. Gold Fever.

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